The Blog

Life, Death, and Silence

Why the media elites won't tell the full story on Terri's prognosis and Michael Schiavo.

6:00 AM, Oct 31, 2003 • By WESLEY J. SMITH
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But it is a matter of court record that many doctors and medical therapists who specialize in rehabilitating people with profound cognitive disabilities have testified that Terri's condition can possibly be improved. This includes board certified neurologists and reputable speech therapists, such as Sarah Green Mele from the world-renowned Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Indeed, Mele stated in an affidavit that Terri would, "within a reasonable degree of clinical probability, be able to improve her ability to interact with her environment, communicate with others, and control her environment if she were given appropriate therapy and training . . ."

But since the judge sided with Schiavo's experts, the media has acted as if that settles the matter. But this isn't akin to a situation of "he said / she said." We don't have to believe one side over the other. There is a simple way to find out for sure whether Terri can be improved: allow her to receive therapy for six months and then take another look. Too bad the media generally refuses to report that Judge George Greer of the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court in Clearwater, Florida, won't permit that.

(3) Many opponents of dehydrating Terri are not "pro-life religious fundamentalists." The establishment media's consensus view is that the Schiavo controversy is being driven by religious, pro-life fundamentalists who have insinuated themselves into a family tragedy in order to further their own narrow sectarian purposes. Thus, when Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry briefly surfaced as a defender of Terri's life, the New York Times happily splashed the story all over its front page warning darkly that religious conservatives intend to parlay the public interest generated by Terri's case as a wedge to "chip away at court rulings allowing abortion and banning organized prayer in schools and the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools, among other issues." (The article was titled "Victory in Florida Feeding Case Emboldens the Religious Right.")

It is true, of course, that many Christians--most of them conservative--have joined the fray, and good for them. But so too has Joe Lieberman, a top tier candidate for the Democrat presidential nomination. Lieberman, who is not Christian, not conservative, and not pro-life, courageously supported Jeb Bush's efforts to save Terri's life, telling the Associated Press, "where there is not a living will . . . we ought not to create a system where people are being deprived of nutrition and hydration in a way that ends their lives."

The politically liberal disability rights movement has also committed itself to saving Terri's life. Indeed, activists almost unanimously declare that dehydrating Terri would be an act of bigotry against her because of her cognitive disability. There was even an effort in Canada to obtain asylum for her on this score. This is why more than a dozen national disability rights groups signed the National Disability Groups Joint Statement in Support of Terri Schiavo, which reads in part:

In this matter of living as a disabled person, those of us who live with a disability are the experts--not husbands, not parents, not doctors, not ethicists. We know that life with a disability is worth living, and we know something we find appalling is the attitude of "better off dead"--an opinion that drives much of the thinking surrounding people like Terri-Schindler-Schiavo.

SO WHY IS THE ESTABLISHMENT MEDIA covering the Schiavo story as if it wants Michael to succeed in his campaign to end Terri's life?

The establishment media usually reflects the attitudes of society's elites, who do generally believe that people like Terri are better off dead. On the other hand, talk-radio and the Internet--what I call dissident media--generated the unprecedented outpouring of support for Terri's life that culminated in Terri's Law. Members of the establishment disdain dissident media and perceive it to be a threat.

Thus, the Schiavo case has, for the mainstream media, become a potent symbol both of the culture wars--pro-life versus pro-choice--and an acute challenge by dissident media to its hegemony over news dissemination.

Too bad for Bob and Mary Schindler, Terri's folks: They aren't trying to lead a crusade. They don't want to undercut the cultural and media status quo. They just want to save their dear daughter's life.

Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute and an attorney and consultant for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. He is the author of "Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope from Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder."